Probation officers asked lawmakers Wednesday to consider preventing the release of their employment records to people who are under court supervision or incarcerated in the state’s prisons.
Several officers testified at a hearing of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which has raised a bill that would add an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for probation officers, shielding their personnel and medical records from inmates and people under court supervision.
Sara Basford, a probation officer working out of the Judicial Branch’s Danbury office, told the committee that an inmate obtained her personnel records in 2012. She said her former home address—where her mother still resides—was released along with her records as well as enough information to piece together her Social Security number.
“Information about me from my personnel file was sent to an inmate. A year later I began receiving love letters from an inmate being held in the same correctional facility as the inmate that requested my information,” she said.
She attached a copy of the inmate’s love letter with the written testimony she submitted to lawmakers.
Basford, who previously worked as a correction officer, asked that the legislature pass a policy similar to the one that prevents inmates from using the public disclosure law to obtain information on correction employees.
“[Probation officers] deal with the exact same people after they’re released,” she said. “… I have close contact with offenders and have been harassed by inmates simply because I have done my job as a probation officer.”
Both the Freedom of Information Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut oppose the legislation.
Andrew Schneider, Connecticut ACLU’s executive director, said his group also opposed the exemption for correction officers.
Schneider pointed to a 1996 case involving Richard Straub, a probation officer who was convicted of sexual assaulting young men under his supervision. Schneider said police searched judicial offices and found records suggesting that co-workers suspected Straub was abusing teenagers and had reported him to supervisors.
“These are the very kinds of documents the bill seeks to conceal. The very documents the victims could have used to get help,” he said. “I remind you of this horrific story because it shows why an individual under the supervision of a probation officer, or in prison for violating probation, could have a legitimate and indeed crucial interest in such documents.”
Lawmakers on the committee seemed interested in taking up the issue this legislative session. Sen. Anthony Musto, co-chairman of the committee, asked Marshall Segar, a lawyer representing the Judicial Professional Employees Union, whether his group would be open to an alternate proposal which makes certain personal information exempt from release but still allows job-related information to be disclosed.
Although probation officers are seeking to have their files sealed from people currently under their supervision, Segar said his group was willing to work on a compromise.
“We do not seek to encroach or infringe upon FOI other than to provide protections for public safety professionals like probation officers. If we can agree on restricting information to job-performance appraisals, work-related documents, we do not have a problem with that,” he said.
The disclosure restrictions included in the bill would apply only until the inmates are no longer incarcerated or and are no longer on probation.
“Once they’ve served their debt to society their full rights as citizens are restored,” Segar said.